My Dad was a hero of the first order- literally the kind of man on which this great country was built. He grew up on a small farm where he had to help his father deliver 50 pound blocks of ice to customers every day. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1941 and always reminded us when we were kids that he went to the enlistment office with his friend and neighbor, Rusty Jackson. Rusty always wanted to see the ocean and joined the Navy. While Dad was sent to dusty and hot Luke Field outside of Glendale, Rusty was sent to serve on the giant battleship, the USS Arizona and was sent to Hawaii. It seemed like an unfair trade until December 7, 1941, when Rusty and so many others were killed. Dad would take us kids to Rustyís grave whenever we visited Krum, but the sacrifice of this young sailor and the role my Dad played in winning the war would not become clear to me until years later. I finally visited the Arizona memorial in 2008 and when I saw Rustyís name up there it all seemed to go full circle. I could see why it was so important for Dad to take us to his grave and I shed a tear for Rusty and for my Dad who was already showing signs of losing this precious memory. He passed that memory on to us and thatís why it was so important to him.
After World War II Dad continued to serve in the Air Force. He flew in the Berlin Airlift, which was one of the most significant moments of the Cold War. He flew into Berlin 49 times in a situation where many brave men did not return home. It was a great humanitarian effort by the United States to keep Berlin open and I was proud of my Dad and his brave comrades for their efforts. He was always very proud of that, as well.
When he retired from the Air Force in 1960, Dad had no job, but still had a family to feed. We watched him shed 40 pounds in the Arizona heat working on a construction crew digging ditches and doing odd jobs until he found a job in the Post Office. He did what he had to do and we were always grateful.
Dad worked as a mail carrier for the next 20 years and bought that old Chevy truck that he named Jezebel to go back and forth every day. It was a beauty, even if it had no air conditioning. It was his pride and joy. During those years, Dad became a leader in his Masonic Lodge, a helper with our Boy Scout Troop, and the solid rock of a family man and leader we needed.
In my college years, I sometimes found it tough to talk to him about life and things, but later on we bonded through music and became very close. We sat down for hours to play and record many of his favorite country songs and hymns and I will treasure those moments forever. We talked and laughed and joked and came up with some pretty good stuff. We even got Mom to try a song or two, even though she couldnít sing a lick. Iím glad now that because of this music I had so many chances to tell my Dad that I loved him.
He was a wonderful grandpa to his four grandchildren and was very proud of them. He was everything a grandpa should be- Mr. Fix-it, the toy assembler on Christmas morning, the guy who would make things for their rooms, and the belly they could lay their heads on and share a nap. He was proud of all of them and loved them dearly.
The last years were rough- there is no denying it. Nature took everything away from him and it was hard on all of us to watch it. There were a lot of tears shed at his bedside during the final hours, but there was also a realization that we were lucky to have had him with us for so many years. For his friends, he was dependable, honest, and loyal; and for his family, he was a complete man. It has often been quoted that the best thing a man can do for his children is love their mother and that is what I will remember most- always. His deep, abiding love for my mother was his greatest legacy. She was his joy for 70 years and he dedicated every waking moment to her well being. This was a lesson in life for his entire family -that love means total concern for the welfare of someone else. That my mother was loved this way by my father is of great comfort to her and all of us.
On the morning he passed away, I had a strong urge come over me just before going over to see Dad, perhaps for the last time. The urge was to pick up the old Gibson guitar that Mom bought for him a long time ago, and the one he was playing when Mom said it was time to go to the hospital and give birth to her second child- me. I hadnít played it for months, as it saddened me to look at it while Dad was declining. But on this morning, I just felt I had to play it one more time. I played the old country hymn that Dad and I recorded all those years ago that said ďHow beautiful heaven must be- sweet home of the happy and free- fair haven of rest for the weary- How beautiful heaven must be.Ē Heís there by now- waiting for us to join him one day. Rest well, Dad.